kitchen table math, the sequel: NCLB 3.0: Dancing and Sculpture?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

NCLB 3.0: Dancing and Sculpture?

No Child Left Behind means a lot of things to a lot of different people. Who knew that one of NCLB's "failings" was that it didn't spend enough time or money on ensuring our struggling schools had enough music, dancing, and sculpture classes? Apparently, that was a top-of-mind concern for Democratic presidential candidates at last night's CNN/YouTube debate.

Gov. Richardson, and to a lesser degree Sen. Biden, demonstrated that too many people either don't understand NCLB or choose not to believe NCLB successes. And that's the real shame. As a community, we should be rallying around the effective teaching, research-based instruction, strong assessments, and student achievement mandated under NCLB. Instead, we are embarrassed by our past support of it and quick to denounce it in public forums.

If you've read my past ramblings, you can guess that Eduflack has a lot to say about last night's debate. Check it out at http://blog.eduflack.com/2007/07/24/nclb-the-great-debate.aspx

NCLB works, and there's the data to prove it and students, teachers, and classrooms to exemplify it. It's time for those success stories -- and not the negative crowing of the status quo -- to define what NCLB really stands for.

31 comments:

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi!

You're here!

Catherine Johnson said...

What do you think, more specifically, about NCLB working or not working?

(This is a friendly question, btw; I've mentioned pretty often that I'm a supporter of the law, "with occasional exasperation.")

Gadfly says a study will be out in the fall casting doubt on the good results for Reading First - do you know anything about this?

I better go read your blog first, before asking more questions.

Catherine Johnson said...

Great post! (on your site - just read it)

Catherine Johnson said...

We need more music, dancing, and sculpture classes in our schools.

John Kerry made a similar point during the last election and even my son was making fun of it.

Maybe I should say "especially my son."

Catherine Johnson said...

Actually, I think strong arts programs in schools are great; I support them.

But it's off topic.

If you want to make a serious point concerning NCLB & curriculum, the issue is curricular narrowing and possibly the peril to the liberal arts disciplines.

Of course the liberal arts are in constant peril and have been for 100 years. To my mind, the only "real" question concerning NCLB & the liberal arts is whether the law creates or reinforces specific disincentives for teaching them...

Independent George said...

I tend to approach the arts the way others approach math - I want my hypothetical children to have a strong arts program in the schools because I don't have the skill or background to teach it myself at home. I do in fact see great value to art, music, & sports, and would very much want my hypo kids to learn them - but if it's a choice between being able to read vs. being able to play the violin, I'll take reading 100% of the time.

As I see it, though, there really doesn't have to be a choice. Or, rather, the fact that so many are forced into this choice is a symptom of a larger problem, rather than the cause.

The scientifically-based curricula pushed by NCLB actually take significantly fewer time & resources to implement than the constructivist ones. I don't have numbers, but the impression I've gotten from the media (which, as we know, is ever-so-reliable) is that the horror stories of schools ditching the arts, science, & history are in schools where either (1) the children are so far behind that they need the extra time just to get them to a rudimentary level, or (2) the schools persist in using curricula that have proven completely ineffective, and are forced to use all their extra time to supplement.

Those two items are really expressions of the same underlying issue - we're remediating at grades 8, 9, and 10 because kids are getting such lousy instruction at the K-6 level. And if we persist in using lousy curricula, is it any wonder that there's no time to teach anything else?

All of which misses the real point: outside of true prodigies, reading & math is way, way, way more important than the violin. And even in the cases of prodigies, does anybody really think that literacy & numeracy are unimportant?

SteveH said...

"As I see it, though, there really doesn't have to be a choice. Or, rather, the fact that so many are forced into this choice is a symptom of a larger problem, rather than the cause."

Exactly!


As for music and the arts, they suffer from the same educational issues as math. At least schools look at music programs as performance-based, where understanding evolves from basic skills, practice, and performance. Unlike art, it's more difficult to explain away lack of mastery. Some may not like certain types of music, but all can cringe over a bad rendition of "Smoke on the Water" for the millionth time.

However, good school music programs are based on outside lessons for students. When your child goes to these lessons (at $30 - $60+ per hour), they are not doing discovery learning. They are mastering skills. Unfortunately, these private teachers get little or no recognition when the school band puts on their big performance.

Music, arts, and sports are all used to leverage more money out of the public with little justification. In this case, however, they seem to use music and the arts to leverage more time away from the core curriculum.

Eduflack said...

Catherine -- Per you question, I think NCLB works when it is implemented with fidelity. The problems we have seen, particularly in reading, are because folks have either cut corners, done it half-way, or plain chosen to ignore the law and do it the way they think is best.

I believe, when all is said and done, Reading First could be the most effective federal education effort in our nation's history. And RF is part of NCLB.

At the end of the day, NCLB is all about boosting student achievement. Can we improve sections of the law? Absolutely. We always can. Learning evolves and we must be equipped to adjust to that evolution. If anything, NCLB needs to be stronger and more emphatic, not watered down and weakened.

Eduflack said...

I'm all for music and art in the schools. And I, too, want to see that in the classroom for my son because I have no aptitude for either and great appreciation for those that do.

In terms of education reform, though, we need to prioritize. Strong reading skills are the gateway to learning, even in the arts. Students who don't read at grade level by fourth grade struggle in other subjects. The data is staggering.

How do we prioritize? First, we get kids reading. Then we teach them the math and problem-solving skills they need. Then they are equipped to study any subject that interests and engages them.

As someone who struggled with the piano for many years, I can't imagine how anyone can learn music without having a grip on both reading and math skills? They're non-negotiable building blocks for all learning.

Independent George said...

Steve - This discussion keeps reminding me of 'The Music Man'. The Think method - the original constructivist pedagogy!

Come to think of it... if I remember correctly, the whole pitch sounded exactly like something out of a constructivist textbook.

Catherine Johnson said...

I tend to approach the arts the way others approach math - I want my hypothetical children to have a strong arts program in the schools because I don't have the skill or background to teach it myself at home.

Linda Moran and others have had what I think is an important insight into the "specials" (which is what art & music classes are called in NY & NJ).

The specials are one of the few subject areas that haven't been colonized by constructivist approaches, block scheduling, etc.

I had noticed this subliminally myself. When we attend the spring concert the music teacher is a pure "content" guy. He has NOTHING to say about character, about critical thinking skills, about the 21st century - nothing.

He is 100% music. That's what he knows; that's what he does; that's what he teaches the kids.

It's fantastic.

Catherine Johnson said...

The scientifically-based curricula pushed by NCLB actually take significantly fewer time & resources to implement than the constructivist ones.

This is one of the things that always gets to me about the reading wars.

How long does it take to teach phonics?

Certainly for the 60% of kids who pick up on it easily, the phonics-teaching phase is a very short period of time.

I'm sure that's the case in spades for the 40% of kids who don't pick up on it easily. Those kids are going to learn to decode a lot faster when taught using SBRR curricula.

Catherine Johnson said...

At least schools look at music programs as performance-based, where understanding evolves from basic skills, practice, and performance.

Right!

(Sorry, hadn't read your comment when I posted.)

Catherine Johnson said...

As someone who struggled with the piano for many years, I can't imagine how anyone can learn music without having a grip on both reading and math skills? They're non-negotiable building blocks for all learning.

Interesting.

Catherine Johnson said...

I think NCLB works when it is implemented with fidelity.

I'm desperate to start learning statistics, data-mining, etc.

I simply have no way to parse the "data" I see in the papers, in reports, etc....

I'm defenseless.

Catherine Johnson said...

Just looking at C's state test score reports makes me want to drop everything and enroll in the first data-mining course I can find...

Catherine Johnson said...

If anything, NCLB needs to be stronger and more emphatic, not watered down and weakened.

I agree.

What are your feelings about the renewal bill just introduced.

SteveH said...

"The Think method - the original constructivist pedagogy!"

I was thinking about The Music Man when I wrote my comments. Many have picked up on the connection to "The Think Method" over the years. However, in the final scene, what saves the "professor" is that the parents hear only what they want to hear. Ignorant parents and the triumph of process over content and skills.

In one scene, however, the old ladies were practicing for their "Ode to a Grecian Urn" dance to music by Sinding, called "Rustles of Spring". This is a lovely, but very difficult piano piece that is impossible to play without years of practice.

Eduflack said...

Actually, I think there are five or six NCLB reauthorizations bills that have been put forward in one way, shape, or form. ED's version (offered by Sen. Burr) is a good continuation of the law. But I'm actually a fan of the bill Lieberman/Landrieu/Coleman bill offered up last week.

Why? It focuses on two key issues. Boosting student achievement and ensuring we are putting effective teachers (and not just qualified ones) in the classrooms that need it most. And it's bi-partisan (or tri) to boot!

Independent George said...

I'm not that 'strong/weak' is really the best way to describe my views on NCLB. There are elements which I despise (such as the highly qualified teacher provisions, which have nothing to do with highly qualified teachers) or dislike (AYP), which I obviously wouldn't mind seeing weakened. I'm also extremely uneasy with literally making a federal case out of education. What I love about NCLB, though, are the parts centered on data collection and analysis - such as keeping disaggregated data, or Reading First (which is really more of an internal audit than anything else). That's what I want to see strengthened.

Independent George said...

Many have picked up on the connection to "The Think Method" over the years.

Shoot. And here I was thinking I was being original.

SteveH said...

"He is 100% music. That's what he knows; that's what he does; that's what he teaches the kids."

I make a big distinction between music and art. As I mentioned before, you can't fake good music. People know. You can fake art, however, because it doesn't have any basis for judgment. The art world denies any basis for judgment, except, perhaps, by those in charge. There are exceptions, but in school, art is all about individual expression where there is no right or wrong. One might view music as math, and art as creative writing; completely different animals.

This really struck me a couple of months ago when my son played at a piano competition for kids (under college age) at the university. Inside the hall, you could hear piano students who spent years of work mastering their craft. Hours a day. Years of lessons. The music was amazing (memorized!) and anything but rote.

At breaks, we went out the back of the hall and looked at the art work on display by university students. There were objects made out of popsicle sticks. there were shoes made out of plastic straws. There were, well, I don't know what they were, but I couldn't believe they were college-level mastery of a craft.

The contrast between the music and the art was astounding. It all had to do with hard work and mastery.

Independent George said...

I really need to find a script online somewhere - it'd be an interesting comparison. Put a series of quotes together, and see if you can identify which comes from The Music Man, and which is from Lucy Calkins.

SteveH said...

"Shoot. And here I was thinking I was being original."

Me too, when I thought of it. I guess it's one of those things that fits perfectly. I wonder if teachers will like our "discovery"?

SteveH said...

I'm not a big fan of NCLB because it institutionalizes slow improvement towards a minimal goal. Accountability is great, but you have schools like our public schools who trumpet their "high performing" status while offering a curriculum of MathLand (originally), and now Everyday Math.

The real fight should be over increasing choice and having the money follow the child.

concernedCTparent said...

I'm pretty much in Steve's camp. My children attend one of those "high performing" schools that offer Everyday Math and a language arts program based around abridged texts, short answer response and multiple choice questions. Standardized tests are in April which means that for at least 7 months that's all that really matters. Homework tends to look like a standardized test.

I just don't see how that's performing anything highly and yet test scores look good, and all is well in the world. From where I sit it appears to breed mediocrity because all anyone cares about anymore is being proficient. The bar is so low you can just slither under and still be proficient. Why bother to reach potential?

Independent George said...

Steve - actually, there might be an analagous case within the art world: the transition from classical realism of the French academies in the mid-late 19th centuries, to the modernism & post-modernism which followed. The change was not merely with regard to style, but over the definitions of art itself. The realists were almost empiricists, and tried to replicate the world around as accurately as possible; the modernists were romantics, who believed that such replication was not only impossible, but also outright harmful, because it was an artificial product which prevented a true expression of a subjects natural qualities.

Truth be told, I think the early modernists were actually on to something, but, as is the case in most revolutions, things very quickly got out of hand.

If you look at western art from the middle ages through the 19th century, you'll notice a steady improvement in realism and quality. Transgressive art is a reaction against that progression; instead of trying to improve upon past masters, it was a rejection of the artifice that came before.

Because the realists would devote years to mastering techniques, any rebellion against the style would necessarily require a rebellion against all its trappings, too. 'Sponteneity' and 'authenticity', rather than aesthetics, quickly became the measure of a work's value, which has the additional advantage of needing neither schooling nor practice.

Now, I recognize the inherent subjectivity of art, and I've no intention of arguing whether classical realism is inherently superior to abstract expressionism. While that might be my own personal preference, the extent of my argument is essentially, 'Because it's prettier!' What does strike me, though, is vehemence with which the modernists & postmodernists not only attacked their predecessors, but the closed-minded insistance that their art was the only true art. It's been many years since I studied this, but I seem to recall very similar language being used.*

* though this may simply be my mind playing tricks on me, and drawing an inference after the fact; I'll have to research this sometime when I'm not at work with a huge deadline bearing down on me. Like Catherine, I am most active on KTM during those exact times when I can least afford to be...

Independent George said...

Dang, Steve ninja'd my comment.

ANYWAY, to follow up on my long rambling discourse in my previous comment, art was not always an 'anything goes' affair. The French academies in the 19th century were very much about dedicating years to mastering your craft, and it is there that some would argue that art reached its pinnacle. Do a Google image search for 'Bouguereau' to get a sense of what teaching to mastery means in the art world.

SteveH said...

Music has its different periods too. Schoenberg's atonal music may not be on the Hit Parade, but it does take skill to play. Thankfully, in music, we don't get (many) who reject basic or traditional musical skills. There are no redeeming features of a squeeking clarinet or a screeching violin. Nobody can pretend that bad playing is not bad playing.


But many in the music world have their conceits. The usual rationale is that all new art forms are rejected when they first appear. The implication is that only the cognoscenti of the genre are capable of comment. This leads to an almost perverse aesthetic that rejects accessible music. You can hear them griping about having to mix 20th century music in very carefully with classical or romantic music just to keep the paying public happy.

Prices said...

In the world of music if you make a mistake once it is a mistake. If you make a mistake more than once then it becomes Jazz.

Doug Sundseth said...

Now, now. There's nothing wrong with Jazz that a good composer and a strict conductor couldn't fix.